Well-being is that state of wholeness, meaningfulness, and connectedness we associate with happiness, the good life, or a life well lived; a life that aims to fulfill its potential. Virtue is the practice that leads to well-being.
These ideas of well-being and virtue have been discussed and debated by philosophers and theologians down through the ages. But it is only recently that science has begun to investigate them.
In 2004 Christopher Peterson and Martin Seligman published Character Strengths and Virtues, an attempt at a scientifically derived catalogue of the healthy human character. They made “a comprehensive literature search of lists of virtues critical to human thriving” that was both interdisciplinary and cross-cultural, and made a determination as to whether those lists converged.
Their research strongly indicated an historical and cross-cultural convergence identified by what they describe as six core virtues:
- Courage: the capacity to overcome fear; the exercise of will to accomplish goals in the face of opposition.
- Justice: that which makes life fair; broadly interpersonal, relevant to the optimal interaction between the individual and the group or the community.
- Humanity: relating to others, interpersonal strengths; positive traits manifested in caring relationships with others; dispositions to tend and befriend.
- Temperance: moderation; positive traits that protect us from excess.
- Transcendence: meaning or purpose larger than ourselves; that which allows individuals to form connections to the large universe, and thereby provide meaning to their lives.
- Wisdom: hard fought knowledge used for good; exceptional breadth and depth of knowledge; creativity, curiosity, judgment, and perspective; positive traits related to the acquisition and use of information in the service of the good life; cognitive strengths.
If well-being or happiness is our aim in life, then it behooves us to find one or more practices to inculcate each of these virtues into our lives. I will be inquiring into what the nature of these practices might be over the next few days.